It used to be that if you wanted to find information online you would grab your keyboard and “Hang 10” as you surfed the net.
Sure there was not much to see, but it was still fun since it was a novelty.
Surfing the net was much like having an ocean view with small regular waves of static home pages gently lapping against your computer screen.
With the exception of the some major news media, there were few players creating the gnarly waves of fresh content coveted by web surfers in this otherwise placid digital ocean of the World Wide Web.
Back then, to have an online presence, a small business owner just had to show up and pitch their virtual beach umbrella in the form of a few web pages about their company.
Then something came along that changed the online landscape forever …
Web Popularity is a Real Beach!
Soon it was common place for businesses, no matter how small they were, to pitch their umbrella on that same beach for very little cost. Gone were the days where a leisurely walk along the beach would be enough to attract the affections of one of the myriad of search engine beach bunnies.
To make it worse, one beach bunny, the bikini-clad Googlebot, won the affections of most web surfers and rose to become the undisputed queen of the beach – and she liked to party. It didn’t take long to figure out that if you wanted to be noticed on the beach now then you would have to get an invitation to her beach party.
Wooing her was a problem because she preferred only one type of suitor – the popular and ripped hunk. Savvy webmasters discovered that the fastest way to become popular was to make agreements with other would be suitors.
Each would vouch for the other’s popularity by proudly displaying the other’s links on his website. Then all that was left was to work out by doing keyword repetitions on their home page to really bulk up their meta tag physique.
Googlebot went nuts for them and she gladly shared her popularity introducing them to her web surfer friends. In fact, they were all that she seemed to want to talk about.
The small business websites with their few static pages that she used to notice were quickly buried beneath the sand kicked on them by her new muscle-bound hunks.
Googlebot Grows Up
One day Googlebot’s father struck it rich and moved his family to Wall Street. Gone were the days of the beach parties showing off all of her hunks.
While traveling to her new home she noticed something. While she had been partying at the beach, someone had been busy planting the seeds of content all over the web.
The online landscape was changing before her very eyes, but this time it was living and constantly evolving. She quickly fell in love with all of the new content that surrounded her.
She still liked to party, but she had grown wearing of web pages that kept flexing the same meta tag muscles. In fact, she ignored them all together now.
She still wanted suitors that were popular, but that were also deep with original content. She found her suitors among a new type of web page called a blog.
Bloggers soon carved out niches in the newly forested online landscape, and then diligently served up fresh original content with frequent updates. Like before, Googlebot loved it and rewarded bloggers with superstar status and told all of her web surfing friends about them.
It was harder to be the queen in the midst of the forest because these bloggers weren’t interested in all of her shallow friends. They just wanted a certain subset of them.
And to make matters worse, they were starting to just use her and then throw their own parties without her. They started spreading word about themselves through email newsletters and RSS feeds behind her back.
It’s Hard to Surf Amongst the Trees
Well, Googlebot would not be dethroned that easily. She still had some tricks up her sleeves. Her first was a commandment sent throughout the land stating that “Thou shalt not follow.” And suddenly, many of these bloggers were no longer popular and she quit talking about them.
She realized as she strolled through the forest that these bloggers were popping up everywhere – like toadstools after a good spring rain. Their niches were quickly becoming overpopulated and their content was become less unique with every passing day.
She also heard a familiar sound amongst all the trees. It was the unmistakable sound of parties being hosted by social media networks. She quickly made allies by providing them with her coveted PageRank and the web surfers started flocking to them.
The bloggers now had to compete with these social media networks with their instant updates of 140 characters or less. At the same time, they were being drowned out by the cacophony of bloggers that were causing the blogosphere to burst at the seams.
Some web surfers traded in their surfboards for walking sticks finding it difficult to be able to surf amongst the trees. They started blog walking; wandering from blog to blog in search of content that was fresh, original, relevant, and credible. Others joined the social media network parties.
Where Did the Small Business Owners Go?
This is pretty much where the landscape stands today. So what happened to the small business owners?
Still Buried in the Sand
Many have never uncovered themselves from all the sand kicked on them years ago. Their websites remain virtually unchanged and are all but invisible to online viewers. They use the lack of web traffic as an excuse that online advertising does not work for small business.
Pumping Iron at the Beach
Some dusted off the sand, and became the new bullies on the beach through link building and excessive use of meta tags. Their efforts were largely spurned by Googlebot via PageRank penalties or website bans. They failed to notice that their beach was vacant and the bullies of the beach were now just beach bums.
Being Squeezed Out of Their Niche
A few tried to become bloggers, but discovered that all of the niches were extremely crowded. They could not find a following among the masses for their voice to be heard. Most have become disheartened and walked away from their blogs in defeat.
Shouting at the Top of Their Lungs
A handful tried various social media networks, but failed because they did not understand how to properly utilize them. They either could not build a following or built a large untargeted following that was uninterested in the spamming they called networking.
There are some small businesses that are thriving online, but the vast majority has turned its back on the internet at a time when traditional advertising and marketing are rushing in.
Taking the Googlebot by the Hand
How will the online landscape change in the future? Who knows? Technology has outpaced our ability to keep up it. I’m betting that it is going to be a wild ride though.
In the next few years we will see traditional media sources like television, radio, magazines, and newspapers continue to pour into the online realm while phasing out their existing offerings.
Social media networks will continue to grow, some will merge with other types of outlets, and some will fall by the wayside.
Bloggers will likely remain nimble enough to take advantage of the shifting trends, or they may be absorbed into something new.
Googlebot is not worried though. She realizes that this turmoil will only make her more powerful. Given her track record, I am going to be right there beside her – holding her hand as tightly as I can.
I encourage you small business owners to grab hold with me and not be left behind this time.